Tag Archives: university of maryland

Life is Taking Me WHERE? Learning to Fit In

I grew up as a Coast Guard brat, moving around the country every few years. I ended up spending my entire high school years in Maryland, where I also ended up attending the University of Maryland, College Park as well as my dietetic internship.  Watching my mom deal with all the moves when I was growing up made me decide that I would never want to marry into the military life, and I loved Maryland.

Fast forward: in college I met an Army ROTC cadet who I ended up marrying during my internship in 2011.  (Guess you can’t really help who you fall in love with, right? And turns out he’s worth it to deal with the whole Army thing 🙂 )  And now, here I am, an Army wife who last summer had to relocate to a strange new place, leave all my friends and family behind, adjust to married life, and…oh yeah, pass the RD exam and start my career

El Paso Juarez Exit

Careful you don't take a wrong turn and end up in Juarez by accident!

Last summer I moved to El Paso, TX, which is a sprawling city (pop ~650,000) in west Texas that immediately borders Juarez, Mexico.  Before you jump to conclusions about what it’s like to border one of the most dangerous, “murder capitals” of the world, El Paso has recently been named one of the safest cities of over 500,000 people, which I can agree with.  Plus our neighbor has some WONDERFUL influences on us, not to be forgotten – Juarez contributes a lot of beautiful art, delicious cuisine, and citizens from both sides of the border are the friendliest population group I have ever been among.  Bordering Mexico does have challenges, however, such as a HUGE cultural shift from the East Coast, including the language, food, and lifestyle.

**Note: I really enjoy living here! Of course adjusting was difficult but El Paso really is a wonderful place.  I encourage anyone to visit before they judge it!**

I decided early on that finding a job working in clinical nutrition was probably my best bet in this locale:

  1. It would be a good experience to work in clinical right out of my internship to continue sharpening my skills in assessing, interviewing, educating, and intervening in a variety of patients and conditions.
  2. All the community nutrition jobs (primarily for low-income El Pasoans) required you know Spanish, and for good reason. Hospitals have staff that could help translate – I only know a small amount of conversational Spanish. (¡qué lástima!)
  3. Many organizations such as dialysis centers required at least 1 year of experience outside of the internship.  I had 0.
  4. Working for a national hospital company may benefit me in the long run by allowing me to relocate within their system as I need to move around with my husband.
  5. I like clinical!

My internship provided me with so many rotations in so many different places, and as a result that experience REALLY helped.  As I interviewed for jobs, I had a lot of insight on how various facilities can differ in terms of management style, workplace culture, RD job duties, and patient population.

I was thrilled when I found an RD position for a medical center nearby, working alongside a few other dietitians, only one of whom is Hispanic and Spanish-speaking.  Not to say it hasn’t had its challenges!

I’d say about half of my patients do not speak ANY English.  Some of them don’t even live in El Paso – they came from across the border.  I’ve learned that in my facility, asking nurses to help translate is the best option, if they’re available to help.  Most of the nurses are from around here and are fluent in Spanish.  One time I made the mistake of having a patients grandson help to translate what was supposed to be a brief, simple education, and boy was that a mess.  He didn’t understand what I was trying to say, so the patient ended up even more confused; I ended up having to wait for the nurse to come help anyways!  Plus the nurses are usually familiar with the educational content I provide, so they know exactly what I’m trying to say as well as how to explain it, unlike a family member.

Often times I also ask for assistance from the Spanish-speaking RD on staff, who has been extremely helpful!  She’s also helped teach me about common food items and other cultural differences in El Paso that I’m not used to.

Here’s my main point: My advice to any dietitians (or even nurses, doctors, or other healthcare workers) who must move to an unfamiliar place…immerse yourself in their culture, and find a local to enlighten you on how people live.  Joining the local dietetic association was also really helpful- you’ll meet RDs who have lived there forever.  I realize El Paso is a pretty extreme example, but the same advice applies.

The bottom line is if you don’t know your patient population, you can’t do your job well.  This is especially crucial when you’re dealing with their eating and lifestyle habits – I can’t tell a person of Mexican descent to stop eating tortillas, that would just be loco.  Number one rule of nutrition counseling is to work with the patient to make small changes to gradually lead to big improvements.  I need to know the baseline diet of the average person here in order to meet them on their level.  To do that, I’ve visited the grocery stores (including the Mexican markets), read the local paper for specials and restaurant reviews, explored menus, grilled my coworker who is a born and bred El Pasoan, and even sampled the local delicacy – Chico’s Tacos (the locals love it but I had a hard time stomaching it haha).

Chico's Tacos

El Paso fare - Chico's Tacos

It’s a whole different world than the one I came from, but it turns out I have adjusted pretty well and now I am really enjoying my time here.  Working as an RD in a foreign place is a challenge, but I know it’s making me a better dietitian in the long run!

If you have any tips on adjusting to different cultures in the nutrition or healthcare industry, please share them!


What’s Cookin?

My Dining Services rotation is complete! I learned so much about food service, food safety, management, and employee wellness. The staff was all so nice and friendly, and it was great to be back on campus. I have a whole new appreciation for my years or relying on the University of Maryland Dining Halls!

For our final presentation, we outlined all the different projects we worked on, such as maintaining the employee Wellness Wall with healthy tips and recipes, writing articles and tips for the dining.umd.edu website, teaching employees about hazardous chemicals, administering a survey to students, and more. We also cooked up a delicious meal comprised of steak braised with tomato and onion, orzo, and peanut butter cookies.

Here are some photos from my experience with my partner Ala:

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Back on Campus: Spring into Wellness!

I am currently rotating through the University of Maryland College Park Dining Services- mostly at the South Campus Dining Hall.  It’s the place where I ate every day my sophomore and junior year of college, so it’s a little strange to be on the other side of things!  My partner and I are learning about food service and employee wellness.  We’ve spoken to many UMD Dining employees about what they do, and how their job duties play into the bigger picture.  This includes budgeting, employee training and scheduling, management, food safety, and more.

Wellness Wall

Our Wellness Wall, Week #1. "Spring into Wellness"

I have to say, the UMD Dining website is pretty amazing.  Not only does it have nutritional analysis of all the foods it serves, it also has nutrition articles and tips!  Contributing content for the website is one of our duties as interns, as well as maintaining the employee “Wellness Wall” that contains healthy tips in English and Spanish.

It’s nice to be back on campus just as the weather is warming up.  I find myself running into some of my friends that are still on campus; they are slightly confused as to why they see me running around the dining hall after I graduated last spring!  We have one more week left in which we will do a final presentation including cooking up a meal.  Ours includes steak, orzo, peppers, and peanut butter cup cookies!

Internship Class: Animoto-ed

Hope everyone has been enjoying the holidays! I know I have been sleeping more than I think might be healthy, but I also need to keep up with internship duties of course!

I thought I would share something I am currently working on. The DC-MD area dietetic internships often have joint class days, in which one internship will host at a time. Next month is the University of Maryland College Park Dietetic Internship’s turn to host at the National Agriculture Library. The focus is on information technology, social media, etc, which is what is unique about our program in the first place. Each of the UMD interns will get a chance to participate in the joint class day. My job is to present a 3-4 minute presentation on a “Tech Tip” in between speakers, my tech tip being about Animoto.

The free version of Animoto lets you make 30 second videos, so I made this spiffy little video about the UMD Dietetic Internship 2010-2011 class as an example of an Animoto project. Please enjoy 🙂


Create your own video slideshow at animoto.com.

Note: 30 seconds is not a lot of time, which is why the pictures may seem a bit rushed! I originally had all this fancy text introducing each intern, but had to cut it out because it was only enough time to show four of us.
The song is Of Montreal‘s “A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger”.

First Up: Clinical

I have jumped headfirst into the internship with the seemingly busiest, most demanding rotation first: clinical.  In this internship, we have a partner that we do rotations with.  However, the clinical portion is individual, so it’s a bit intimidating!

I am so grateful that I had a lot of volunteer experience at George Washington University Hospital in DC.  I remember how terrifying it was to just walk into a patient’s room and speak to them at first!  I was fortunate enough  to be able to shadow some of the dietitians there as well, which has made the start of clinical just a tad easier.  At least it’s not all brand new!

So far, I have become oriented to the hospital and shadowed my preceptor doing the normal tasks of a clinical dietitian such as writing tube feedings, visiting with a couple patients, and working with the nurses and other hospital staff.  Next week, I will become more involved in the daily duties of a dietitian.  I also have homework to work on, both for clinical assignments and to begin building my electronic portfolio!

For now, I will enjoy the long weekend 🙂 Happy Labor Day!

Not Your Average Internship

Match for Internship

The Greatest Relief EVER!

For those of you not in the field of nutrition, you may be wondering why I am blogging about a silly little internship.  So I can share stories of getting coffee for the boss? Doing menial tasks to assist the real workers? Silently suffering at the bottom of the ladder in the hope of one day being hired?

While I’m sure that would be a thrilling blog to read, this is NOT that kind of internship.  Instead, I like to think of it as nursing school, but for dietitians.  A college degree is required, and completion of an internship is necessary to obtain the coveted “RD” (Registered Dietitian) credentials behind my name so I can get a job.  It’s sort of a graduate program that you pay for, but you don’t earn graduate credit.  Basically, I am in career limbo.

My dietetic internship has a ton of different rotations and sites that I will be blogging about.  For example, I’ll be working at a local hospital for my clinical rotation, Riderwood Village and UMD Dining Services for my foodservice rotations, Food & Friends and School Lunch for my community rotations, and IFIC (International Food Information Center) and CNPP (Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion) for my information technology rotations.  My internship director explained this process as “A 10.5 month job interview.” All the rotations will definitely help me pinpoint where I would like to go in my career, and who knows, maybe a job will come out of it as well!

Getting here wasn’t necessarily simple.  For each internship I applied to, I had to write a slightly different essay, fill out lengthy forms, and solicit three letters of recommendation from my work supervisors and professors.  The various internships I applied to had different requirements and different due dates; this caused me many afternoons of stressing out at the post office, triple-checking to make sure I had everything in order for an overnight, traceable delivery (I couldn’t risk my applications getting lost in the mail!)

After that, there was a long period of waiting: first for an invitation for an interview, and eventually for match day.  Match day was the day that we found out 1) If we got an internship 2) which one we got.  No, we weren’t offered admission from different programs and then got to choose; instead, we had to rank the internships, they ranked us, and we were matched by a computer system.  Sound stressful? It was.  Of course, the <50% acceptance rate to dietetic internships didn’t help with the anxiety.

Fortunately, on that fateful day, I was matched to the UMD internship, and here I am!  I loved the variety of rotations within the program and its focus on nutrition communications and information technology.  I could not be more excited to get started!  First up: clinical rotations!

And So it Begins…

First Day

Another intern and I on our first day.

Today marked the completion of my first week as a dietetic intern!  After four years of grueling coursework, a lengthy application process, and a very anxious match day, I was ecstatic to be matched with the University of Maryland College Park Dietetic Internship.  Throughout the summer I had been working on assignments to prepare for this 10.5 month program with an emphasis in information technology and communication, and I’m excited to begin!

The first few days were comprised mainly of orientation and entry procedures.  The 10 of us got to know each other pretty quickly as we learned about what we would be doing at our various rotations.  In the first few days, we traveled to Baltimore’s Harbor Hospital, the University of Maryland campus, Riderwood Village in Silver Spring, and the National Agriculture Library (NAL).

The Registered Dietitians that work at NAL taught us about using websites and social media to share nutrition information with the public.  They covered topics such as maintaining a positive presence on the internet, using twitter, and creating Web sites.  As interns, we are even responsible for submitting tweets and blog entries for the program!  Because of my strong interest in using communication via the internet in my future as a dietitian, I found these lessons to be especially useful.  I am eager to begin building my own electronic portfolio that will showcase my work during the internship.

One week down, and so far so good! TGIF!